The e-justice portal gives access to EU case law databases. But the UK won’t adopt a new identifier tool.

I realise that my new specialisation is EU projects in which the UK refuses to participate – see what I wrote last week on the e-justice scoreboard. I shall take my PhD in the topic. This week I have another example.

By way of introduction, I have previously praised the European Commission’s e-justice portal. It describes itself as ‘a future electronic one-stop-shop in the area of justice. As a first step it strives to make your life easier by providing information on justice systems and improving access to justice throughout the EU, in 23 languages’. If you are looking for tips for useful legal websites, it should come near the top of your list.

One of its blessings is that it gives instant access to case law databases for all member states, the EU and internationally. Even if you use it for nothing else, it is a single source for the UK jurisdictions’ case law, including everything you can find on the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII).

The portal introduces users to the European Case Law Identifier (ECLI), which is being developed to facilitate a uniform citation of judgments from European and national courts related to EU law. This is particularly helpful because national EU law precedents are useful in all member states’ courts. Before ECLI, it was difficult and time-consuming to find the relevant material.

Now ECLI has established a set of uniform metadata, composed of five mandatory elements: (1) ‘ECLI’ to identify the identifier as being a European Case Law Identifier; (2) the EU country code for the member state; (3) an abbreviation for the court that gave the judgment; (4) the year the judgment was given; (5) a number up to 25 characters in a format that is decided upon by each member state. A (non-existent) example of an ECLI could be: ECLI:NL:HR:2009:384425, which could be decision 384425 of the Supreme Court (‘HR’) of the Netherlands (‘NL’) from the year 2009.

You will not be surprised to hear the next piece of news. Each member state proposing to use ECLI must appoint a governmental or judicial organisation as the national coordinator, responsible for establishing the list of codes, publication of the way the number is made up, and other relevant information. Whereas all the other big member states, such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are working on introducing the system, if you click on the union jack it says: ‘The UK does not at present have any plans to implement the European Case Law Identifier.’

In fact, that will stop courts and lawyers in other member states from being able to use easily our own court decisions, and so hinder what the government always proclaims it wants to promote – the spread of English law and dispute resolution (here the judgements of our courts in EU law cases) beyond our borders.

Besides ECLI, there are other instances of the portal’s helpfulness. For example, it gathers into one place what it calls ‘dynamic forms’. Some EU legal instruments provide standard forms that citizens and courts can use in civil and commercial matters. Examples are forms from the following areas: European Payment Order, small claims, compensation for crime victims, judgements in civil and commercial matters, legal aid, maintenance obligations, matrimonial matters and matters of parental responsibility, serving documents and taking of evidence.

There are big plans for the portal’s development. The draft strategy on European e-justice 2014-2018 was published in December last year. There will be a lot of money available for projects, and some of it will be devoted to portal improvements. There are already factsheets on a series of topics, such as defendants’ rights in all the member states.

To this, the institutions are discussing adding the following over the coming years: information relating to minors, prisons, victims of crime (in particular the level of compensation in the member states), and prisoners’ access to information in the field of justice.

The EU institutions also aim to provide a single access point on the portal for interconnection to the information in national registers in the area of justice, focused in particular on insolvency registers, business registers, land registers, interpreters’ and translators’ databases, registers of judicial experts, registers of wills (including the registration of the European Certificate of Succession), a succession register and an ambitious aim to have an interconnected matrimonial property register.

Put the e-justice portal on your list of favourites today! (This advice obviously does not apply to the genius in the Ministry of Justice who has kept us out of ECLI.)

Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs